Department of WTF

I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this:

A Muslim woman breaks the taboos of her culture: using a pseudonym, she publishes an erotic tale divulging the secret sexual lives and cravings of Muslim women. The book was a phenomenon in France, but conservative Muslims have attacked it as trash. If her identity were revealed, she fears she would be stoned in her native Morocco.

Stoning? In Morocco?? For crying out loud, if you’re going to trade in cliches, it might be a good idea to stick to the ones most appropriate for the country where your story is set.

The book this Spiegel article is raving about is the much-hyped autobiographical novel The Almond, written by a pseudonymous author named Nedjma. It has been described as a Muslim Vagina Monologues and touted as the first erotic novel by an Arab woman. It recounts the life of a Moroccan farm girl named Badira, who is sexually assaulted by her husband on her wedding night, and who puts up with the violence for three years before moving to Tangiers, where she takes a lover and rediscovers her sexuality.

But the details that we have about the author suggest that she’s not even Moroccan. For instance, her name is spelled in the Algerian vernacular (in Moroccan Arabic, it’s a different ‘j’ sound.) And Nedjma also happens to be the title of the famous novel by the Algerian Kateb Yacine. Indeed, the Telegraph identified this Nedjma as Algerian, while Spiegel Online says she’d be stoned “in her native Morocco,” so which the fuck is it, people?

I guess the reason I’m annoyed with this whole hoopla is that it completely trades on the sales bonanza enjoyed by Salman Rushdie in 1989. But it’s one thing for a novelist like Salman Rushdie (whom I respect and admire) to have the courage to put his name on a work of fiction, and to put up with a fatwa by a bunch of lunatic goons, and it’s quite another to write a pseudonymous novel and hide behind the idea that there are risks of “stoning,” when, as far as we know, no threats have been made.

And the idea that Nedjma is the “first Arab woman” to deal with erotica is completely absurd. How about Al Khansaa who wrote in the 7th century? Or, more recently, Alifa Rifaat? Or Ahdaf Soueif? Or Assia Djebbar?

But of course, it’s this “I’m an oppressed Arab woman who tells the West about her plight” that sells books, and I guess her U.S. publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, will soon cash in as well. And the NY Times profile (with the author hiding behind a hat and dark sunglasses) can’t be far behind.

A few months ago, I wrote a 1,000-word piece about these types of books and how they work, and I never got around to sending it out. Maybe I should.

Update: Fellow writer Randa Jarrar sends this note with even more names of women writers who’ve written erotica.

Latifa El-Zayyat wrote about sex; Nawal Al-Saadawi has erotic scenes in most of her novellas; sexual content was one of the reasons Assia Djebbar changed her name; Ahlam Mostaghanmi, the author of Memory of the Body, wrote many sex scenes. Speaking of Mostaghanmi: when her book first came out, her publisher claimed she was the first Algerian woman to have written a novel in Arabic. This turned out to be false. A schoolteacher had written a novel in Arabic 20 years earlier.

I’d be willing to bet that this Nedjma does not even exist.


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